Saturday, December 11, 2010

Leo Francos, 1921-2006

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos

Growing up, I had a somewhat tempestuous relationship with my father, Leo Francos, but as he got older, we became closer, and in the last few years of his life, I would travel the 40 miles to his house nearly every weekend, and we would go out for lunch at the Mineola Diner (which no longer exists), and then go grocery shopping.

My dad passed away on Dec 11, 2006, shortly after a fall. I wrote this eulogy for him the day after he died, and the eve of his funeral, on my brother Richard and sister-in-law Bernadette's computer.

My dad was a fighter from the start. Born Isadore Leopold Francos on January 12, 1921, from early on he so strongly did not like his first name he refused to be called by it, choosing his middle name as his first, enough so that every document of legal age he was simply Leopold Francos. That was so typical of dad, stubborn to the end.

As a youth growing up in the Bronx, dad lost two people to whom he was very close: his half-brother Max, whom dad looked up to, was taken as a teenager by cancer when dad was just a small boy. His mom, Sadie Grossman, died of a stroke. Dad found her in the kitchen of their apartment. Both of these events were both very traumatic and influencial in his life.

During World War II, dad served as a private first class in the Army, but did not leave the east coast, instead working in hospitals and psychiatric facilities in the Bronx and Long Island. He even learned some basic sign language.

After the war, dad bought his first piece of what he felt was true independence: a car. For most of his life, owning a car was a symbol of importance and status.

One day on the subway after the war, dad ran into an old elementary school pal he hadn’t seen in years, Ralph Schwartzman, and they remained close friends from then on.

Dad went on a blind date with an army buddy, and he was paired with a brunette, while his chum with a blonde. When they walked into the room, my dad turned to his friend and said, “I’m taking the blonde.” That is how he met Helen Rosen, my mom.

They were married in 1948, and moved into the Rosen family apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The rest of the Rosens promptly moved out.

My brother Richard was born in 1951, and I followed in 1955.

In their early married days, my parents knew how to party, and would host wild evenings of drink and laughter, and we have many photos to back it up. This came to an end, and they cut their partying ways sharply when my toddler-aged brother was found literally under the table with a bottle of booze in his hand. Still, they loved to gather with friends like Ralph and Audrey Schwartzman, and Phyllis and Carmine Sodano, and I remember nights laying in bed as they all convened in the living room, and I could hear them laughing.

When we were children and our parents wanted to talk without us understanding, they would speak in Yiddish, especially around the dinner table, but they almost never argued around us.

One language of dad’s that we all knew loud and clear was that he was a snorer to the nth degree. He could literally be heard from beyond the confines of any wall. One time at a motel while on a vacation with Ralph and Audrey, Ralph pounded on the door in the middle of the night complaining that dad was keeping him awake from two rooms down. Of course, dad’s response to this, as it always was, was simply, “What are you talking about, it didn’t wake me up so I don’t snore.”

Dad’s father, Benjamin, spent his last few years confined to a bed at a hospital in the Bronx. In today’s world a pacemaker probably would have cured this, but meanwhile we trekked up there nearly every weekend until Benjamin’s passing in 1963. This also had a major impact on dad’s life in that he knew he did not want to end up confined in any kind of hospital or nursing home. This became a core belief for the rest of his life.

While we were growing up, dad worked as an Auditor for the Defense Department at Sperry, at Lake Success on Long Island. Every day he would drive back and forth, sometimes with a car pool. One time when I was in fourth grade, I was hanging out with a friend of mine whose father was a cab driver. He said to me, “So, is your dad still driving a cab?” Basically I said, what are you talking about, my dad is an auditor, not a cabbie. I asked my mom about it, and sure enough, Dad drove a cab on weekends to make ends meet. We kids didn’t know it. The irony was, whenever we were all in the car, my dad used to curse at cab drivers, much like he would complain about “old man” drivers, even as he himself aged, and they were eventually younger than him.

Whenever the family would go to visit anyone, be it a relative or a friend, shortly after the meal he would stretch and say, “Okay, it’s time to go.” The Rosen family knew him affectionately as “Uncle Eat and Leave.” Sometimes my mom and dad’s older sister Lillian used to conspire ways to keep dad occupied so they could have one more cup of coffee and talk before heading out.

While highly opinionated and vocal about those thoughts, Dad also had a way of zoning out, smoking his pipe in the living room in front of the television. The two of us were watching a murder mystery one time and the phone rang five minutes before the end. I ran to the kitchen and told the other person that I would call them back, and then ran back to the show in time to see the credits roll. “Dad! Who did it?!” I asked. My dad’s answer was, “Ahh, I wasn’t paying attention.”

My parent’s plan for their senior years was that Ralph would retire, then my dad, then my mom, and then with Audrey they would travel together, as they often did on short vacations as a group. Shortly after Ralph retired, he passed on, and then too quickly after my dad retired, my mom passed away, on June 25, 1981. The story we all agreed on was that Helen and Ralph were sitting at the bar at some resort in heaven, just waiting for the rest and passing the time and laughing.

After a lively retirement party from Sperry and then my mother’s passing, dad mellowed significantly, and he became more of a cuddly bear. He endeared himself to all he met, including his new daughters-in-law, Bernadette and Marie , whom he took into his heart like they were his own.

In the mid-1990s, Dad moved out of his apartment in Brooklyn, and into his new home in Mineola, where he made himself comfortable, within walking distance of King Kullen where he could pick up small grocery items and the paper, and from the Entenmanns’s Bakery Outlet, so he could indulge himself in his chocolate fetish.

As he became older and slowed down, as one must, he eventually had to give up his car, which at first pained him for what it symbolized, but he also knew it was the right thing to do, as he learned to make use of Able Ride, and would always point to them on the street and say, “There’s my bus.”

My brother and I would go see him often, to help him with shopping needs, or the occasional family dinner to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. He enjoyed these very much, as did we, sometimes getting together with Bernadette’s mother and father, Dottie and Hank.

One time we were set to go out, and Richie and Bernadette got to dad’s apartment first, when he fell ill. In fact, he died three times that day, but each time was brought back, fighting to accept the invitation modern medicine offered. After a stay in rehab, he was back on his own. In fact, when he suffered a mild stroke last year, after another a short stint in rehab, he was literally back on his feet within weeks, walking to King Kullen for his paper and rolls. He was determined through sheer force of will that he would not be in a home, and would stay independent.

On this past Saturday, while visiting a friend, dad fell and hit his head. When I arrived at the hospital, he was still coherent, but soon after fell unconscious due to what the neurosurgeon called a catastrophic brain hemorrhage. He passed away two days later, with family by his side.

Even at the end, he was stubborn, coming back for one more breath before he finally let go.

Somewhere at that cabana, Leo, Helen, Ralph, and Bernadette’s mom, Dottie – who would have fit into that group so well – are sitting and laughing, waiting for whomever is next, to join their happy group, celebrating the lives they have lived, as we celebrate yours today, dad.

Post-script: Dad's official passing was after 5:00 PM, but I saw him let go at 4:44 PM. Since then, Bernadette's dad, Hank, has passed away just a few short months ago, and I'm sure he's there, at that cabana, as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment